Dear UMC: Please No New Denominations


Personal Note

This is the first time I’m writing a blog post for Unsettled Christianity—or any blog post, for that matter. I want to thank Joel Watts for the opportunity to share these thoughts on Unsettled Christianity.

Schism—a sad possibility

If for some reason you are not familiar with the current state of the United Methodist Church as a denomination, here are some helpful perspectives:

I felt compelled to share my thoughts on the uncertain future of the United Methodist Church because I love the UMC, and even now, am hopeful for its future. I want to make one thing clear: I am absolutely committed to serving the UMC. As a recently ordained elder in full connection with the Rio Texas Conference, I intend to serve Christ’s church through this denomination for as long as it exists, or until, God willing, I retire many decades from now, whichever comes first.

But at this point, to deny the possibility of schism in the UMC is to deny reality. Given that sad reality, I want to share some perspectives about the UMC’s future, especially with respect to the possibility of a schism. If the UMC ceases to exist as one body, I believe our congregations should join existing Christian denominations. I believe that new denominations would only serve to further divide the body of Christ.

Unity in the Body of Christ—a biblical mandate

I have strongly opposed the dissolution of the United Methodist Church for one simple reason: God wants the church to stay united. The psalms tell us “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father for unity amongst Christ followers (John 17:20-23). The Apostle Paul reminds us that all believers are part of one body, for we’re all baptized by the same Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). We believe in one God, one faith in Jesus Christ, and one Spirit who gives us the ability to live in peace and unity (Ephesians 4:3-6). That’s why John Wesley preached against the possibility of schism from his own Church of England five years before his death. It’s why Karl Barth referred to the division of the global church as a “scandal” (Church Dogmatics, Volume IV.1, New York: T&T Clark Intl., 1956, pg. 677).

Pursuing Unity—even when a church body splits

Of course, if unity were the only biblical value, no church body would ever split. The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches would never have split. Luther never would have left the Catholic Church. The global church would not consist of something like seven major ecclesial global blocs. In the previously cited sermon, John Wesley says that,

Suppose you could not remain in the Church of England without doing something which the word of God forbids, or omitting something which the word of God positively commands; if this were the case, (but blessed be God it is not) you ought to separate from the Church of England.

Nonetheless, the occasional necessity of institutional separation does not negate Scripture’s command for the church to seek unity. A divided church offers a confused and divided witness to the world about the power and love of God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, even when one must separate from a church body, one must seek as much unity as possible within the global church.

A Modest Proposal—No New Denominations. Period.

Regardless of the future of the UMC, we’re called as Christ followers to seek, as much as possible and with the Spirit’s help, unity with the global church. Many within the UMC seek such unity, and I applaud them for their efforts. In the seven months I’ve served in my current appointment, I’ve connected with many local pastors from other denominations, and I treasure those connections. Especially with the sad possibility of schism arising over the next few years, I believe we should all take a step back and assess our role within the global church.

Given these reflections, I believe one thing for sure: the world does not need any more Christian denominations. We have already split in so many ways that the global church must seek greater connection, for such connection leads to a stronger witness of the power and love of Jesus Christ. Such unity, of course, does not require uniformity. Different ministries and cultural contexts require different evangelistic and missional strategies, and in many cases different worship styles. Nonetheless, splitting a denomination and forming new denominations, in my opinion, ignores our Christian mandate to exist as a united body of Christ.

It is my hope and prayer that as the various factions within the UMC engage in difficult conversations over the future of our denomination, we form no new denominations. A plethora of denominations already exist that could fill the void should the UMC no longer exist. Conservative/evangelical Methodists (I find myself in this “camp” most often) have much in common with the Wesleyan Church and the Anglican Church in Northern America, for example. Those on the progressive side have a lot in common with plenty of existing mainline denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, ELCA, UCC, and PCUSA.

I would also hope that non-Caucasian and multi-ethnic congregations could join such church bodies. However, if that didn’t work out, there are existing options for those congregations. For example, AME & AME-Zion could offer a home for African American congregations. I’ve also heard colleagues mention the possibility of Spanish-speaking churches linking up with the Mexican Methodist Church. Regardless of how such a scenario would specifically shake out, seeking connections with existing denominations would provide a powerful witness to the Spirit’s ability to draw us together as Christians. Such unity would at least partially mitigate against the inevitable damage that a dissolution of the UMC would create.

I hope none of these contingencies are necessary. It is my hope and prayer that the United Methodist Church stays whole. I hope Methodists can find a way to evangelize and minister to the world for the cause of Jesus Christ as one body. However, regardless of what the future holds for United Methodists, Christ calls us to seek unity with the entire church. The formation of any new denominations, in my humble opinion, would not serve that end.

ADDENDUM: I appreciate the feedback that a reader offered on social media that I did not address the reality of the UMC’s global nature in this post. This is absolutely true, and I’m grateful for that feedback. It should be noted that both the Wesleyan Church and the ACNA are global, or at least closely connected to a global church body. But in discussing the possibility of schism, we should ponder the response of the non-American church to this possibility.

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24 Replies to “Dear UMC: Please No New Denominations”

  1. Fascinating idea. There are other denominations which may also offer a home for orthodox UMs, such as the Evangelical Methodist Church or the Evangelical Free Church. No body would be a perfect fit, of course. Perhaps dialogue could begin in case of a “mass exodus”.

    1. Indeed there are too many denominations, schism here does not mean perpetuation of more division in the Body of Christ. The UMC in my view is already experiencing schism on issues beyond human sexuality. Many progressives and some conservatives have theological views contrary to historic Christianity (see the theological views of bishop-elect Rev. Karen Oliveto as an example (available elsewhere).
      The UMC today is in open theological and political warfare, with broken covenants, weak and sometimes heretical theology, arrogance, and poor witness to the transforming love of Jesus Christ. It is regrettable that many in the UMC are ignoring sound theology while fighting on one issue (sexuality) alone.
      A realignment of more orthodox denominations will be (ironically) a step TOWARD Christian unity. It is already happening among Presbyterians, Anglicans, and other groups that are establishing relationships across traditional denominational lines (such as in the Convergence movement)
      Prayerful and discerning humility is needed, but that however does not necessarily mean preserving the status quo–I believe it means willingness to take a “leap of faith” to a stronger, healthier, more faithful future if necessary.

    2. Evangelical Methodist Church? I’ve heard of Free Methodists, but not that one. Interesting how ignorant we are of the multitude of denominations in the US, even the ones related to John Wesley’s ministry.

  2. I agree with the sentiment whole-heartedly. Here are the two most immediate problems. 1 ) Such are large influx of UM clergy and parishioners would overwhelm any of these bodies. They are not likely to accept us. 2 ) Most of the ones we would be attracted to require a higher degree of theological traiming for clergy than what our seminaries provide. Some require that a pastor learn at least one the biblical languages. Odds are you’ve never met a UM pastor who can translate Greek or Hebrew. Others require clergy to be well versed in the classics–your UM seminary grad never read a book more than a few years old. Much of our work is spent in churchified adaptations of high school sicial studies classes and the complate works of Adam Hamiltom. (Okay, that was snarky) Many of the Wesleyan denominations require a thorough back ground in John Wesley–UM seminaries are barred from requiring their students to own a copy of the Wesley Standards.
    We need either a new denomination or a complete reformation of this one just to prepare our clergy to be acceptable to those churches.
    …and that’s before considering the difficulties in getting them to accept that many UM laity as voting members.

    1. Keith,

      Something like theological education requirements could be negotiated. I’m sure there could be a certain amount of grandfathering and/or continuing education involved.

      As for the size issue, it would depend on how things shook out. If the UMC were to shatter–go in many different directions–that may not do much to enhance formal unity in one feel swoop, but it would create connections across denominational lines while equipping certain denominations to be able to absord a chunk of Methodists.

      Alternatively, the evangelical wing could negotiate entry into one particular denomination over a phased period of time (I think Wesleyan is closer in theology, ACNA closer in polity), which, especially in the case of a Wesleyan denomination, could be more like a merger than a mass entry.

      This is why, per Keith McIlwain’s comment, we need to start thinking of this and building connections now. Such an expression of Christian unity can’t happen by doing the work after the UMC is formally over.

      1. “Something like theological education requirements could be negotiated. I’m sure there could be a certain amount of grandfathering and/or continuing education involved.”
        If someone can persuade them then fine. (Assuming that we can’t reform the UM). But, I suggest that quote is from one trained in an egalitarian pluralistic seminary. Many Lutherans, most Anglicans, and Wesleyans have a long and continuing history of doing without clergy before yielding on theological training. If someone can persuade them these things are of lesser importance than what they have held til now–OK. Perhaps they might be more likely to receive us as some kind of missionary conference without full voting rights. If there are those who are in a position to open that dialogue then I fully support them. I am not, however, prepared to go five years with this mess.

  3. RE: No New Denominations
    If the UMC gets to the point of formal separation, one denomination (not mentioned above) would be more compatible with the history of John Wesley and his theology: the Anglican Church of North America. I agree: No new denominations please!

    1. Mr. Kreh, thanks for your feedback & supportive comments.

      I don’t know what you meant by “not mentioned above,” but I did mention ACNA as one possibility for conservative/evangelical/orthodox Methodists should the UMC cease to exist!

  4. Funny that you serve in Edcouch, Texas, my childhood hometown. I wondered what a seemly all-Anglo Methodist Church was doing in my little, overwhelmingly minority town near the Mexican border. My humble response to your post is to consider the possibility that the Mainline’s inability to hold onto orthodox sexual ethics is a reflection of the Protestant world’s broader failure to hold on to orthodoxy in general. Protestantism has found creative ways to resist the orthodoxy of the ancient churches. So, for example, John 6 and James 2 are dismissed as not meaning what they plainly say. Based on the logic of your post, you should reconsider the call of the ancient churches. Both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches are, as the names indicate, global and orthodox. I see from your bio that the ancient churches are your childhood home.

    1. Manuel,

      Interesting that you grew up in Edcouch! Where do you live now?

      Delving into how I found myself in the UMC would be lengthy, but in short I’ll say: in the Catholic Church, I fell in love with the church–which is not a bad thing. In Protestant Christianity, I fell in love with the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, as revealed in Scripture and the Holy Spirit. That’s not to say that one can’t find Jesus in the Catholic Church–I certainly believe that one can! But that was not my experience.

    2. I’m now in Houston, but much of my family is still in the Rio Grande Valley, mainly in Edcouch. That little town is still home! I am glad you are there.

      I am sorry about your personal experience in the Church. It pains me to hear, and I cannot deny that your experience is probably too common. But I don’t want to lose the intellectual thread — about doctrine — that has been bouncing in my mind for a few years now and that your post triggered me to finally express. Here’s how I have framed the point in my mind. As the years go by, it becomes more difficult to determine which group is more faithful to the Bible on historical controversies. Every side has formulated textual arguments that all sound right on a first hearing. But, now, on this sexuality issue, there is no question as to which side is orthodox and which side is revisionist. So we have a test case as to which group is able to hold the line on orthodoxy and which is not. And, airplane press conferences notwithstanding, it is the Protestant groups that are failing the current test.

      The consequence of this, it seems to me, are big. Faithful, orthodox, missionary Protestants from non-faithful denominations are thus in a morally untenable position in pulling out lukewarm believers from an orthodox church and into an unorthodox church. No?

  5. Hope I did not sound dismissive in previous post, but as I said, I was responding from surgery recovery. I really would like to see another article on this subject. It would be preferable to have a more united orthodox community.
    A reality I am trying to communicate is that even the very high church among us–the most committed to a faith that is both evangelical AND sacramental–breathe the air of UM pluralism. We see things differently, so a phrase like “negotiating education requirements” just rolls off our tongue. Its what WE do. Many other churches are appalled at the idea. ACNA and AMiA have been negotiating a union for two years and are not close. Yet, they are much closer to each other than either of them is to us.
    Of course, anyone can take their UM seminary degree to any denomination at any time and see what its worth. Where I’m in need of persuading–before I abandoned a workable and imminent solution–is, “How are we more likely to persuade several denominations, of which we are not members, to reform their process than we are to reform the church where we already constitute the majority?” Failing the reformation of the UM Church, are you suggesting that we remain in schism for years while negations are worked out at denominational levels rather than seek an amicable separation and have the new church orders do the negotiating?
    I don’t expect that answer to fit in a reply box. that is a whole other article that I would seriously like to read.

    1. Keith,

      Those are some great thoughts, and I appreciate them. I’m guessing the surgery went well?

      You’re right, responding to your very good questions would take another article. But I’ll add two things: (1) the difficulties of joining another denomination are perhaps why we should see schism as a very, very, very last resort. If we can’t split the UMC without at least making movements toward greater unity with Christ’s body in other ways, then that only goes to show, I think, the damage of such a schism. Barring that, though, (2) if schism did occur, sad and harmful as it would be, perhaps forming an interim denomination with the explicit intention of seeking unity with other Wesleyan and/or Anglican denominations? If schism looks likely, we could begin those conversations before schism becomes final, and continue the conversation as we functioned as an interim denomination.

      The more I discuss this, the more depressed I become. Can’t we just tell schismatics (regardless of ideology) to find somewere else while the rest of us go on being Christians in the United Methodist Church?

      Oh, and finally: seeking formal and informal unity should be the business of the church no matter what. The UMC has formed covenant agreements with several bodies lately. If the UMC stays whole, we should continue to expand and build upon that work.

      1. “Can’t we just tell schismatics (regardless of ideology) to find somewere else while the rest of us go on being Christians in the United Methodist Church?”

        This question comes from my heart. Thank you so much for your blog post and for this question!

        Just to introduce myself: I am a professing member (not a clergy) of the UMC. I was born in Germany and have always lived here. I think it is important that we United Methodists from different cultural backgrounds and different geographical regions of our planet share our thoughts, experiences and insights to one another.

        I hope you will find some of my thoughts interesting:
        I do not claim to be an orthodox Christian. (If we look deep enough, we will find differences probably between the beliefs of all of us. It’s just a matter of depth and honesty. What, then, could be called orthodoxy?) But I do want to take serious what Paul writes in the last verses of 1 Cor 13 and in the whole chapter:
        “Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. Now faith, hope, and love remain – these three things – and the greatest of these is love.” (CEB)

        The covenant among Christians (Wesleyans are Christians, by the way, for those who stand near to the possibly future Wesleyan Covenant Association) is not based on the belief of a certain kind of sexuality or whatever some people call their orthodox theology. We are not called Sexualians or Orthodoxians, we are called after Christ: Christians. The covenant is based on the Lord of the Church. He is the Word of God according to John 1:14. He told us what are the two greatest commandments: to love God and your neighbor (here in short because we all know the long form).

        On the basis of this love and knowing that we are all loved by our creator in the same manner we United Methodists should find a common ground for remaining together in one organization: the UMC. And if there are really a few people on any or both ends of our theological spectrum who, for any reason, cannot or do not want to remain, they are free to leave the UMC and join any other denomination. But they should know: They will be missed.


        An information regarding The Evangelical Methodist Church (in the US; there are some other Evangelical Methodist Churches in several countries): In 2005 or 2006 it had about 15,000 (full) members and a community of about 27,000. (reference: World Methodist Council: Handbook of Information 2007 – 2011, p. 275)

        Not really a Methodist church but also a church based on the heritage of Methodism is The Church of the Nazarene. Like The Wesleyan Church and The Free Methodist Church of North America it belongs to the holiness movement. It could be an interesting alternative for conservative United Methodists who seek another denomination for themselves. It is a church working on almost all continents in many countries. According to the handbook mentioned above The Church of the Nazarene had more than 630,000 (full) members and a community of more than 870,000 in the US alone.

        1. In C.S. Lewis’ The Four Loves, he has an extensive treatment of the adage, “Love covers a multitude is sins too often by simply becoming another name for many of them.”
          On my on site I have several articles addressing corruption of the church and not one of them mentions sexuality. If you follow the more orthodox bloggers you will note they rarely mention it. My objection to Bishop Olivetto is less her sexuality and more her asertion that the Bibke is mostly lies made up to oppress people. It is the progressives for whom sexuality is constantly in the forefront. They use it as smokescreen to avoid addressing how they deny the divinity of Christ, the atonement, the bodily resurrection, and the legitimacy of Scripture. Perhaps one can alow for that saying we are not called resurrectionits, atoners, or scriptualists, but Christians–whatever one might imagine Christ to be. I consider that to be a whole other religion in need of a separate church.

          1. Keith,
            Do you have any WWW reference for Bishop Oliveto’s alleged “asertion that the Bibke is mostly lies”?
            Who are the progressives you are writing about? Are they United Methodists? If so, how important are they in the UMC? Would it be possible for you to give me some names and WWW references?

          2. Great thoughts everyone, I’m glad I got to “meet” so many wonderful people via this post! I can’t reply to everyone’s questions and such (though I appreciate them all), but I’ll take a crack at the simple one:

            Juicy Ecumenism posted an article 10 days ago re: Karen Oliveto’s alleged heresy. I have not run down every one of their reference links, so I cannot verify the authenticity of the accusations, but you can do so if you’ve got the time! Here is that article:

  6. Thanks for your effort, Joe. This article is from John Lomperis not from Karen Oliveto as I have expected. He belongs to the conservative IRD and is certainly not a good and unbiased interpreter of Oliveto’s theology to others. Sorry, the assertion of Keith is still an assertion which cannot be verified so far.

    How should a future unity within the UMC look like?

    1. As to that article, yes, it’s from IRD, sorry I didn’t make that clear. But did you check the reference links? I find I can often verify a biased article’s accuracy by the validity & content of its reference links.

      1. You are right with your last sentence.
        Perhaps I am blind. I have tried it with two different computers with two different operating systems, but I cannot see any link to a text written by Karen Oliveto. All links within the text of John Lomperis go to which is really good but not helpful in this case. The Bible seems to be some years older than any of our current clergy. 😉

    2. I have become weary of those who speak with authority on a subject and then profess ignorance of the foundational arguments that have been in the public discourse for years—and then declare that it is my responsibility to do the research to bring them up to speed.
      First, you do not respond to C.S Lewis’ illumination of love simply becoming another name for sin. Second, you suggest that it is the “orthodox” that would split the church over sexuality—I counter that we rarely mention it in our concern for the wellbeing of the church. You can read my specific articles here, and check every post on the site and you will not find that mentioned once as a cause for separation. You can examine this blog site’s recent history and be hard pressed to find an article where it is an orthodox blogger who even mentions sexuality in their post, but you will find much from them about the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, canon and its authority, interpretive methods, the understanding of election, Wesleyan understanding of evangelical and sacramental, sacredness of vows, theology of covenant, the normative nature of creeds: their usefulness, or lack thereof; and Christian integrity: keeping one’s word even when it hurts. You do not respond to either of these premises, so I assume that you yield the points. These are our points of contention, yet you invent one of your own (opposition to loving God and our neighbor) as a straw man and then argue against a position which no one asserted.
      Are you an honest inquirer? I may misjudge your intention, but before I spend my time preparing a footnoted dissertation with references to documents and videos–answer this. What difference will it make to you? Will it alter your position at all? If I reference the sermons, the articles, the seminary textbooks, the denominational writers that teach contrary to the historic Christian faith and the Methodist doctrinal standards, then will you agree that they such teachers must be reformed or separate from the church; or do you hold the same opinions yourself? Do you also believe that it makes no more difference to one’s eternal soul whether one chooses Christ or Mohamed? Do you also believe that any consensual behavior is good and that all scripture, the prophets, even Christ himself is to be interpreted and judged according to that standard of good?
      That you are so informed as to be able to make the arguments you have but are so unaware of the public discourse on these matters of the last several years I find odd. If you are an honest inquirer, if you are only lacking information to change your opinion, then I will take several days of whatever time God has remaining for me on this earth to prepare a detailed, footnoted dissertation. I love to read them—I hate to write them. There are many on this site who are better at it than I am. I write essays and speak in prose. But if you are sincere and if you are truly unable to find the information on your own—if data is all you need to change your views and I am the only one who can provide it—then I will prepare it and make sure you get a copy.

      1. Thank you, Keith. I guess there are some misunderstandings here.

        First, I do not have to respond to all of what somebody mentions here. English is a foreign language to me. Reading and writing texts in English is more time consuming for me than reading and writing texts in German. You are invited to write only two or three short sentences of your next response to me in German. Will you do so?
        I uphold that love is an essential basis for Christian unity. When you tell anybody anything about sin without loving this anybody your Christian witness will probably not be heard in a sense you want it to be heard by that anybody. This is my response to your quotation (without context) of the adage.

        Second, it was not my intention to convey that a particular side of the theological spectrum of our Church tries to split the UMC with sexuality. But self defined “orthodox” United Methodists are quarreling with some progressives over sexuality. I clarify that both sides are quarreling with each other. And I also want to convey – perhaps agreeing with you – that sexuality, from my point of view, is not or should not be an essential topic in a church.

        I have not asked you to write a dissertation. So you may save your time. But you have asserted a lot of things (July 25, 2016 at 10:59 pm) and given no reference link so far. I ask you again to give reference links. I will not do your work. I will just consider your assertions what they are: assertions without evidence. Do not expect from me that I a have a complete account of the whole public discussion of the recent decades in the US part of the UMC. I also do not expect from you to have a complete image of the public discussion of the recent decades in the German part of the UMC.

        The whole part from “Are you an honest inquirer?” through “interpreted and judged according to that standard of good?” seems rather harsh to me. If the atmosphere of constructive debate looks like this in the whole US part of the UMC, then I understand well where we will end with the UMC and why.

        1. Guten morgen. Ich glaube, es ist etwa 07.00 wo sie sind.
          Sie schreiben gut Englisch. Mein Deutsch ist sehr schlecht. Ich bin autodidakt so dass ich kann lesen Luther und Bonhoeffer. Einen richtigen satz in deutscher sprache zu schreiben ist schwierig. Ich verstehe nicht die regeln.
          Si preferies, Espanol es mas facil. Se basa en latín.
          I wanted to read Richard Rolle and Walter Hilton in their original pen. Fourteenth century English is a step away from Martin Luther’s German. That is close to Bonhoeffer’s German.
          Because I am self-taught from books I can read adequately, write simple sentences with difficulty, speak like an idiot, and cannot understand a single spoken word of any of these languages. I admire those who can move between languages with your skill. I somewhat envy your time and resources to accomplish this and applaud your using them so wisely. I know how difficult it is to create sentences in another language, so I avoid doing it.
          Aber, zu dem punkt: “’Das ganze teil von “Bist du eine ehrliche inquirer? ” bis zum ” interpretiert und beurteilt gemäß dieser norm von gut?”, Scheint ziemlich hart für mich.”’ …. Das ist genau das wo wir stehen. Vor acht wochen war ich viel großzügiger person. (We need to continue in English out of respect for the forum.) A few weeks ago, I could have written the comments which you offered. But I have seen dialogue used not to reach an agreement but to delay a decision. Questions are asked not for information but to change the subject and to stall for time. One can always ask another question. Question the source. Question the context. Question the interpretive method. Or, as they did at General Conference, use endless parliamentary questions to delay the work of the church, and the language of love to appeal for the postponement of a decision, so they can go home and immediately betray the church.
          So, it is perfectly fair and reasonable (in our current North American context} to ask, “Are you an honest inquirer? Will the answer change your position?” It is important to answer, “Should those who deny the historic Christian faith and reject our doctrinal standards be reformed or removed from the church?” It is necessary to ask of United Methodists in North America: “Are you of the opinion that it makes no difference to one’s eternal soul whether one is a follower of Christ or Mohamed?” It is completely necessary to ask, “Do you have a subjective standard of good by which you judge the scriptures and Godself?” If the answer to any of the first three is, “no,” or either of these last two is “yes”, then we do not need to be wasting time with endless questions, nor delaying decisions with dialogue. The only question is, “How do we part company?” The decision has been made that we will not continue to operate two contradictory religions out of one administrative body.

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